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The Agave Heritage Festival logo

Ready for Tucson’s Agave Heritage Festival?

I’m excited to be heading to Tucson next week for the local Agave Heritage Festival because of all the luminaries involved and, well, it’s Tucson and I’m excited to explore the desert. As much as California is agave country, the Sonoran Desert is an entirely different biosphere full of agave, sotol, and all sorts of flora that we never see out here. Plus it has an amazing cluster of horticulturalists and intellectuals who have been very attuned to the environment and have helped knit together a unique culinary culture.

What is it?

Tucson’s Agave Heritage Festival slipped under my radar for quite some time. This is their 11th anniversary so I’ve been missing out for way too long. It’s two weeks of tastings, cultural encounters, and educational events focused on the Sonoran Desert. Tucson has nurtured a well known culinary scene which has focused on native plant species and maintaining the local ecosystem – the festival highlights that scene.

This year it’s two weeks worth of events including two nights focused on Bacanora, a live agave roasting demonstration, garden tours, parties, and the big Agave Expo on Saturday May 4th which will have a variety of tastings and educational events. The full festival runs April 23-May5th. I’ll be in town April 30th-May 6th and attending as many events as possible so make sure to introduce yourself! Here’s the full event listing, just make sure to get your tickets because space is going to be tight.

People and places

As with pretty much everything in life, people make the experience so I’m really excited to meet the Agave Heritage Festival organizers Todd Hanley and Dalice Shepard who I’ve been talking to on the phone for years now. There are some amazing people presenting there including Gary Nabhan, Rodrigo Medellín, and David Suro. Old friends like Lou Bank who will be pouring for SACRED and Clayton Szczech who will be auditing. The Californian representatives include some of the core group behind last week’s agave roast north of Sacramento like Craig Reynolds and Doug Richardson who will be presenting on Agave: A Spirit without Borders.

I’m really looking forward to diving into the Sonoran Desert fauna so I’ll be spending some serious quality time at the Desert Museum and hiking in the area. And then there are local institutions like Native Seeds/SEARCH which are justifiably famous for saving and propagating so many local desert plants. Since everything really is connected, Native Seeds benefits from the Agave Heritage Dinner at the festival. If you have recommendations, you know where to find me.

Eating, drinking, repeating

Susan’s recent visit had me drooling so, along with all the festival events, I’m really looking forward to eating and drinking my way through town. I’ll be at the Bacanora Spirit of the Sonoran Desert Part II event at Exo Bar which is fortuitous because Exo Bar was already on my list for their fascinating mezcal programming.

It was news to me that Tucson was a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015 and they’re busily highlighting their partnership with Texas and especially San Antonio which is this year’s second U.S. city to be on that list. One of the threads running through this year’s festival is how sustainability informs the dining scenes in Texas and Arizona with guests like Chef Elizabeth Johnson from Pharm Table, Chef Kevin Fink from Emmer & Rye, and Chris Bianco from Pizzeria Bianco.

Where there’s one, there are more!

We’re late to the party on this one but we just heard about the Marfa Agave Festival which is June 1-9 this year in, yes, Marfa, Texas. Both Susan and I already have travel plans then so we can’t make it this year but if you’re in the area, definitely check it out. We’re already making plans to attend next year!


Max co-founded Mezcalistas with Susan way back in 2012. Before that he was a journalist at Salon.com and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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